Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Attorney in Tampa, FL
If Federal or State law enforcement officers are attempting to use asset forfeiture laws to take your property, then contact an attorney experienced in fighting asset forfeiture cases. Immediately after the seizure, the defendant is provided with a written notice of seizure and forfeiture.
Vehicle forfeiture actions are common in Florida. Forfeiture actions can also involve the seizure of cash and other property. Read more about the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
If you have received a Notice of Seizure of Personal Property
and Right to Adversarial Preliminary Hearing,
then you must file a request for an adverse preliminary hearing within fifteen days
for a state action (or ten days for a federal action) to preserve your rights.
Your most important right after a seizure and forfeiture action is to file a written request for an adversarial preliminary hearing. In State of Florida forfeiture actions, you must make the request in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the City or County Attorney at the address listed on the notice of seizure within 15 calendar days of receipt of the notice.
You must include a copy of the notice with your written request. After receipt, the attorney for the agency must set a date for the hearing and the hearing date must be within ten (10) days of the request. Don’t wait. When you get the notice, seek out the services of an attorney to file a written request for an adversarial preliminary hearing the same day.
The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm can help you demand an adversarial preliminary hearing and negotiate the return of your property. We can often help clients get their property back within hours or days of filing the request for a hearing.
Forfeiture Chapter 2016-179
Effective July 1, 2016, CS/CS/HB 889 amended the requirements that apply to seizure, the review of seizures, and forfeiture procedures in a number of ways. The new forfeiture rules extensively amended Sections 932.701 – 932.7062 relating to civil forfeiture. The most important provisions in the new legislation allow for seizure of property only if the owner of the property is arrested for a criminal offense that forms the basis for determining that the property is contraband.
The exceptions are that the owner of the property cannot be identified after a diligent search, the owner is fugitive from justice or is deceased, an individual who does not own the property is arrested for the criminal offense and the owner of the property had actual notice of the criminal activity, the owner of the property has agreed to be a confidential informant, or the property is a monetary instrument.
This statutory change is important in cases where the defendant may move for the return of property, and there is an issue of whether the law enforcement officer has properly begun forfeiture proceedings. The bill also contains many new procedural and administrative requirements for the seizing agency.
Innocent Owners and Asset Forfeiture and Seizure Actions
Other owners of the property including “innocent owners” may also be provided with notice. If you have received notice that the state or federal government intends to forfeit your property, you must act quickly. You have fifteen (15) days in state actions and ten (10) days in federal actions after receiving notice of the forfeiture to file a request for an adverse preliminary hearing to preserve all of your rights.
Always Request an Adverse Preliminary Hearing
The adverse preliminary hearing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to fight for the return of the property and assert any defenses that exist in the case. In far too many cases, the owners of the property do not take the appropriate action within the strict time limits allowed, and the state or federal government holds the property without a fight.
Vehicle Forfeiture Actions are Particularly Common
Vehicle forfeiture actions are common throughout Florida, including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Sarasota County, Sumter Counter, Polk County, and Pasco County. Contact a criminal attorney experienced with forfeiture actions to discuss the return of your vehicle or another asset.
Purpose of Asset Forfeiture Actions in Florida
The purpose of the asset forfeiture statutes is to take the profits of crime away from the criminal to deter crime. The forfeiture statute allow the state or federal government to take privately owned property without compensating the owners. Individuals opposed to forfeiture laws argue that these actions invite corruption by law enforcement.
Asset Forfeiture Actions by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office or Tampa Police Department
For forfeiture actions initiated by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office or the City of Tampa, even in those cases in which the city or county does have a valid claim to the property, an experienced asset forfeiture attorney can often negotiate the return of the property for a fraction of the asset’s true value. In other cases, the property can be released without any payment or with a small payment in exchange for signing a “waiver of damages” form.
If you can not afford to lose your asset, whether it is cash, a vehicle, a firearm, or other property, contact an attorney who can explain your rights and devise a plan of attack. Call (813) 250-0500 today.
Attempts to Circumvent the Right to an Adversarial Preliminary Hearing
In some cases, the police will attempt to frustrate a person’s right to contest the seizure by focusing them to sign a “Settlement Agreement and Release” sometimes while the person is being in handcuffs by several armed law enforcement officers. The settlement agreement and release purports to assign all rights and interest in certain property to the city or county agency in Florida.
The purported consideration in such an agreement is the city or county’s agreement not to proceed further with Forfeiture Proceedings. Under such an agreement, it says “I hereby waive my rights to have the settlement reviewed by a judge, mediator, or arbitrator per Florida Statute 932.704(7).
Even if you were forced to sign such a settlement agreement, you could still request an adverse preliminary hearing to contest the taking of your property subject to the seizure within the time period permitted by law.
Statutes Governing Civil or Criminal Forfeiture
Federal forfeiture actions are governed by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. State forfeiture actions are governed by the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, Florida Statute Section 932.701-707.
Local governments, such as the City of Tampa, also have their own rules allowing forfeiture. The City of Tampa attempts forfeiture actions under Tampa’s Code of Ordinances, Section 14-27, which governs the forfeiture of vehicle used to facilitate prostitution and drug-related crimes.
Filing a Law Suit for the Return of the Vehicle – Posting Bond Instead of Paying Towing and Storage
Local law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida may also attempt to hold your vehicle through an “investigative hold,” and require you to pay $25.00 a day in storage fees while the “investigative hold” is pending. You have certain rights under Florida Statute Section 713.78 for a statutory lien for towing and storage to receive notice.
You can also file a complaint in County Court where the vehicle is being held if you believe the “investigative hold” is improper under Florida law. Upon filing the complaint, the owner or lienholder may have her vehicle released upon posting a cash or surety bond equal to the amount of charges for towing and storage to ensure payment in the event his lawsuit does not prevail.
Upon posting the bond and payment of clerk fees, the clerk of the court shall issue a certificate notifying the lienor of the bond and directing the lienor to release the vehicle. When the vehicle is released, the owner should give a receipt to the company that towed or stored the vehicle listing any claims for damages to the vehicle.
Highly Questionable Cases
State law enforcement officers in Florida have been known to attempt forfeitures for far less serious offenses than those listed above such as attempting forfeiture of a vehicle allegedly used after a felony shoplifting offense from a Wal-Mart.
Another example of a questionable forfeiture action would be when law enforcement attempts to forfeit a vehicle after an arrest of the driver for being in possession of a trace amount of cocaine in a small baggie. In these kinds of cases, an experienced criminal defense attorney can often negotiate the return of the vehicle because the forfeiture is excessive in light of the crime alleged.
Contact the Sammis Law Firm if your property is subject to a forfeiture action in Florida. Call (813) 250-0500 to speak with an experienced attorney today about your case.
· The Differences Between Civil and Criminal Forfeitures in Florida
· Adverse Preliminary Hearing in Florida State Court Forfeiture Actions
· Vehicles Forfeitures
· Defenses to Forfeiture under Florida and Federal Law
· Types of Property Subject to Forfeiture
Two procedures exist for forfeiture actions – criminal forfeiture or civil forfeiture. Civil forfeitures are becoming the increasingly common way for the state or federal government to attempt to take property because the rules for civil forfeiture actions are often easier for the state or federal government because no criminal prosecution or conviction is required. In other words, even if you are never arrested for or ultimately exonerated of the criminal offense, the civil forfeiture may still succeed.
In a civil forfeiture proceeding, the state or federal government bring suit against the property, instead of suing the owner of the property. The owner of the property becomes a third party who asserts a claim to the property. To succeed, the state or federal government must first make a sufficient probable cause showing for the forfeiture of the property.
If that showing can be made, the owner of the property must prove by a greater weight of the evidence that probable cause does not exist to forfeit the property. A civil forfeiture proceeding does not depend on the outcome of the criminal case. On the other hand, in a criminal forfeiture action is dependent on a conviction because the criminal forfeiture proceeding is intended as punishment for the individual accused of a criminal act.
Crime Does Pay – Federal and State of Florida Forfeiture
On December 22, 2008, the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division announced that it seized nearly $19 million dollars in cash, vehicles, and other assets during 2008. The United State’s Attorney’s Office intend to distribute from the forfeiture fund over $8 million to various law enforcement agencies throughout the Middle District of Florida. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office will receive $160,000.
Hire an Attorney to request an Adverse Preliminary Hearing in State Court Forfeiture Action. Owners of seized property in state actions have more rights and a greater chance of getting the property back than if the property is subject to forfeiture by the federal government.
After an adverse preliminary hearing is requested in Florida State Court, the burden is on the city or county to prove that the property seized is adequately connected to the alleged criminal activity to constitute “contraband” under the forfeiture act. The city or county must meet this burden by clear and convincing evidence.
The seizure and attempted forfeiture of vehicles are common by law enforcement officers, particularly in Hillsborough County, Florida or in the City of Tampa. In Hillsborough County forfeiture actions can be initiated by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office or the City of Tampa Police Department.
If it can be alleged that your property was used to transport drugs, such as a car, truck, semi-tractor or another vehicle, the state or city can attempt to forfeit the property as punishment to deter crime and as a means of compensating the government entity for the crime. Even if you are the owner of the property, and you were not involved in the crime, the property may still be forfeited under certain circumstances unless you assert your rights within strict time periods.
The law provides for legal mechanisms that can force the return of your property. Defenses to forfeiture actions can include the following:
- The true owner of the property is an “innocent owner” who had no knowledge of the criminal activity
- The forfeiture is disproportionate to the crime alleged (excessive)
- The law enforcement officer that seized the property was without probable cause
Florida is one of eighteen states that permits criminal forfeiture of assets. Florida criminal forfeiture laws attempt to deter several crimes, including:
- Money Laundering;
- Drug trafficking;
- Prostitution; and
- Theft or Fraud.
Property that can be subject to forfeiture can include the following:
Contraband such as illegal drugs and weapons
Objects used to commit the crimes, such as a vehicle used to transport drugs
Proceeds derived from the criminal activity, such as houses, vehicles, business accounts allegedly funded or purchased with the proceeds and profits from illegal activities
According to Florida Statutes Section 932.701-706, “Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act,” the stated purpose of the Act is to provide certain set procedures allowing law enforcement to seize and attempt forfeiture of assets, such as cash monies, automobiles, vessels, real property, aircraft, and other items.
Under the statutes, contraband can include controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and money that has some connection to a criminal drug crime. Contraband can also include any personal item which has been used as an instrument of any felony offense such as a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or money gained from the proceeds of a criminal act defined under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Contraband can include real property, such as a house or land, including a lease or other interest in real property if the property was used during the commission of a felony, or is proceeds of a criminal act defined under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Property and assets can also be subject to a Florida Civil Forfeiture Proceeding under certain conditions including:
- Vehicle forfeiture for any automobile used to transport drugs for any drug transaction.
- Vehicle forfeiture for any automobile purchased with the proceeds of an illegal act, such as a drug crime.
- Vehicle forfeiture for any automobile used in the course of a felony, such as a sexual assault, armed robbery, or burglary.
- Asset forfeiture if the automobile, vessel, boat, or aircraft was used to transport or conceal certain items of contraband.
- Asset forfeiture if a private home, residence, business or warehouse used to store stolen merchandise or illegal drugs.
- Vehicle forfeiture if the vehicle was driven by a habitual traffic offender.
- Vehicle forfeiture if a vehicle was driven by an individual who is driving on a suspended or revoked driver licenses that resulted from a prior conviction for driving under the influence (“DUI”).
- Asset forfeiture of other property used in a drug transaction or is the proceeds of a felony drug offense such as the following: (a) Money or U.S. Currency; (b) Drug paraphernalia, marijuana / cannabis grow house equipment, drug scales, safes; or (c) Guns or firearms.
A civil forfeiture proceeding can begin even after the criminal forfeiture proceeding has started. Although Florida law provides for a board range of property subject to seizure, many protections to the owner of the property are also provided in the Forfeiture Act.
If your property is subject to forfeiture in Tampa, Hillsborough County, Polk County, Pasco County, Manatee County, or Sarasota County, contact an experienced attorney in Hillsborough County for Asset Forfeiture cases to fight for the return of your assets and property. Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney that can also fight for the return of your property in a forfeiture action.
Forfeiture Endangers American Rights Foundation – An American nonprofit organization dedicated to reform of federal and state asset forfeiture laws to restore due process and protect property rights.
Jarret B. Wollstein, The Looting of America – How over 200 Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws Enable Police to Confiscate Your Home, Bank Accounts & Business Without Trial.
International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) – Network of individuals and associations in over 90 countries dedicated to building a free and peaceful world through the ideal of free markets, social tolerance, and individual responsibility.
Seizures and Forfeitures in the City of Tampa
The phone number to the Tampa Police Department Impound Lot is (813) 242-5328. Pursuant to 713.78, the City of Tampa may seek to impose a statutory lien pursuant.
Tampa Police Department – 813-242-5328
If your asset was seized by the City of Tampa in Florida, the case will be handled by the Forfeiture Unit for the City of Tampa Police Department that reports directly to the assistant city attorney, who serves as police legal advisor. The phone number for the City of Tampa Legal Bureau is (813) 276-3769, the phone number for the City of Tampa Forfeiture Unit is (813) 276-3767.
In 2003 alone, the In 2003, a total of $1,236,561.29 was placed in the Law Enforcement Trust Fund through seizures and forfeitures.
Seizure, Forfeiture or Impounded Vehicles in Hillsborough County, FL
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office
District 1 – 813-247-0600
District 2 – 813-247-8560
District 3 – 813-247-0331
District 4 – 813-247-0331
Florida Highway Patrol – 813-632-6859
Tampa Airport Police – 813-870-8760
USF Police Department – 813-974-2628
Plant City Police – 813-757-9200
Temple Terrace Police -813-989-7110
Seminole Indian Police – 623-5748
Seizures and Forfeitures in Pasco County, Florida
If your vehicle or other asset has been seized, impounded, or is subject to forfeiture, you can contact the Forfeiture Unit of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
Seizures by the City of Pinellas Park
The City of Pinellas Park if fond of the “negotiated settlement” agreements. Under those agreements, law enforcement officers with the Pinellas Park Police Department might force a person to sign a settlement agreement to assign the property to the City of Pinellas Park.
The City Manager, Michael Gustafson and the City Clerk, Diane M. Corna will sign and attest to the settlement agreement after the fact. The person who is forced to sign the agreement is told that all rights have been waived under Florida Statute 932.704(7) to request an adverse preliminary hearing or trial on the seizure. If you have been forced to sign such an agreement, contact an attorney about filing and litigating the demand for an adversarial preliminary hearing within 15 days of receipt of the notice of seizure form.
This article on forfeiture was last updated by Jason D. Sammis on Monday, November 11, 2016.